Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model

Setting Direction and Thinking Long Term

Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model - Setting Direction and Thinking Long Term


Think long term, and learn the effects of positive leadership.

Leadership is about setting direction, helping your people to succeed – and so much more! As a leader, every single action you take has real, practical consequences for your team and its performance.

Dunham and Pierce's Leadership Process Model helps you to understand how the different facets of leadership affect one another, and why it's important to adopt a positive, long-term approach to leading your people.

In this article, we explain how the model works, and examine how you can apply its lessons to your own situation and working life.

What Is the Leadership Process Model?

The Leadership Process Model was developed by Randall B. Dunham and Jon Pierce, and was published in their 1989 book, "Managing." You can see our interpretation of the model in figure 1, below.

Figure 1. The Leadership Process

The Leadership Process Diagram


Model reproduced (with permission) from "Leaders and the Leadership Process" by Jon Pierce and John Newstrom. © 2010 McGraw-Hill Education.

The model shows the relationship between four key factors that contribute to leadership success or failure. They are:

  1. The Leader: the person who takes charge, and sets the direction for the group or team.
  2. Followers: the people who follow the leader's directions on tasks and projects.
  3. The Context: the situation in which the work takes place. This could be a regular workday, an emergency project, or a challenging, long-term assignment, for example. Context can also include the physical environment, the resources available, or events in the wider organization.
  4. Outcomes: the results of the process, such as reaching a particular goal, developing a high-quality product, or resolving a customer service issue. There can also be outcomes such as improved trust and respect between the leader and the followers, or higher team morale.

The model shows the way in which the leader, the followers, and the context combine to affect the outcomes. It also shows how outcomes feed back to affect the other three factors.

Most importantly, the model demonstrates that leadership is a dynamic and ongoing process. So, it's important to be flexible (bearing in mind the context and the desired outcome), and to invest continually in your relationship with your followers.

As the diagram shows, each factor impacts the others. Negative actions will likely feed back into the process to adversely affect future performance, while positive actions will likely improve future performance.

How to Apply the Model

Pierce and Newstrom highlight several ways to apply the insights from this framework to your own development as a leader, and to the development of your people:

1. Provide Regular Feedback

The Leadership Process Model underlines the need to give good feedback, so that your team can grow and develop.

When you give feedback to your team, it influences the context and helps to improve the outcome (providing more focus, for example). This can then cycle back to influence you and your team in a positive way. As outcomes and context change, regular feedback also helps to keep your people on the right track.

2. Be Aware of Actions and Reactions

No matter what you do, your decisions, behavior, and actions directly affect your followers. Every action has a reaction, or will likely influence the actions of a follower.

As a leader, it's essential that you keep this in mind. Saying something thoughtless or lashing out at a team member will have consequences, even if you don't see them immediately. Ultimately, these consequences might include diminished performance, reduced morale, increased absenteeism, or accelerated staff turnover.


It's very important to control your emotions at work and to keep a level head, as this will help your decision-making process. It's also helpful for your team if you act as a good role model, and lead by example.

3. Lead Honestly and Ethically

Relationships between leaders and followers should be built upon mutual trust and respect. This will likely lead to better outcomes and a happier and more productive working environment.

Your people need, and deserve, an ethical leader that they can trust and look up to. Of course, your team members may have to follow your instructions. But, if they trust you, they'll also want to follow you, and they'll more likely be willing to "go the extra mile."

So, try to be authentic in your actions and in your communications with your colleagues. Lead with integrity, actively build trust, and be humble. These qualities will strengthen your relationships with your co-workers, as they'll see you as someone who can be r to do the right thing.

4. Lead With the Right Style

Using Transformational Leadership, you can develop integrity, set clear goals, communicate well with your team members, and inspire people with a shared vision of the future.

However, it's helpful to be able to use other leadership styles when appropriate. For example, to fit a particular follower, outcome or context.

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5. Consciously Assign Tasks

Do your team members have regular opportunities to use their unique skills and strengths? If you're assigning tasks and projects in an ad-hoc way, the answer might be no, and this can cause resentment.

Try to assign tasks that fit the skills of each member of your team. For example, when there's a big presentation coming up, consider who is the most suitable person to research it, to make the slides, or to actually deliver it.


Read our articles on the Four Dimensions of Relational Work and Task Allocation for more information on how to match tasks to particular situations, and to your people's individual skills.

6. Focus on Relationship Development

Start by developing your emotional intelligence. This encompasses many of the traits that we've already mentioned. When you have high emotional intelligence, you are self-aware, you manage your emotions, and you act according to your ethics and values.

You also need to show empathy with your team members. When your people see you as an empathic leader, they feel that you're on their side, and that you can see things from their perspective. This deepens the relationship that they have with you.

Lastly, reward your people for the good work that they do. Even a simple "thank you" will show your appreciation.

Key Points

The Leadership Process Model highlights the dynamic and long-term nature of leadership. It shows how your actions and behavior influence your people, just as their actions and behavior influence you.

When you understand the model, you can apply lessons from it by doing the following:

  1. Providing regular feedback.
  2. Being aware of actions and reactions.
  3. Leading honestly and ethically.
  4. Leading with the right style.
  5. Assigning tasks consciously and intelligently.
  6. Focusing on relationship development.


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